D Andrew Burr
Romans 8: 33-39
I do appreciate that the message in the gospel is glad tidings, but it is a truth stated in Scripture that, whatever else we may expect in our lives, whatever other dates or appointments we hope to keep, there are two appointments which everyone has to keep. I do not think I could enter them on the kind of phone I have, but the smartest ‘smartphone’ will not help you either, because you do not know when they are; but you still have to keep them. The scripture says that “it is the portion of men once to die” - that is one appointment - “and after this judgment” - that is another appointment, Heb 9: 27. It is “the portion of men”; if you are a human being, this is your portion.
It may appear to the young people that death and anything beyond it is remote; some of us find it is not. And you cannot assume it is anyway; death has a way of intruding like some unwelcome visitor into lives and friendships in a very final way. If someone in this gathering here this afternoon were to die, we would all feel it, because our relationship with them, renewed over this weekend, would end. And, although we have a portion in Christ, no doubt, we would finish our journey here without them. How final it is! Death does not observe any other law of nature. You cannot say it will strike old people only; you cannot turn up the scripture (Ps 90: 10) and say that man’s span is seventy years, as if you have some entitlement to seventy years. The fact that many people live well beyond that reminds us that not every one will even reach that age, or half of it. And even if it does not strike you directly, it will come close enough for you to feel it; it is one of the most real things there is. A lot of what we think about in life is a bit unreal - we have imagination, and we have dreams, and hopes; but death is real and final.
And so is judgment; in a way, more so. The scripture tells us, “We shall not all fall asleep”, 1 Cor 15: 51. That is to say that it may be in God’s ways that that first appointment will pass us by; something else will intervene: the coming of the Lord. But none of us can avoid the second appointment - none of us. I wonder if everyone believes that. It says that “each of us shall give an account concerning himself to God” (Rom 14: 12): we all have to do that. It is not just the portion of the unsaved, although their place of accounting may be different; it is something we all have to do. So that is very real as well. And I just point this out, that the order of the appointments is in God’s hand and God’s wisdom. It might be thought that it could be the other way round. Why is it not? The reason is simply this, that the evidence on which the judgment will be made is fixed by the time we get to the judgment. We read sometimes in the newspapers about very bad people who are remanded in custody, and they try and influence the evidence that the Crown is going to bring at the case. They try to threaten witnesses, or get their friends to destroy material. Dead people cannot do that; God will not allow it. We have the opportunity in life - and that opportunity is now - to see to the evidence.
I am sorry to start on such a sombre note, but I want to make a contrast from this scripture. It does not speak about you or me dying; it says, “It is Christ who has died”. Now I am getting to the glad tidings! Beloved: do you believe that He died for you? Are you on that journey that I have been speaking about on your own? Can you afford to go on? That hymn we often sing a part of - ‘I Could not do Without Thee’ - says,
He would not have you go
Another step without Him,
Because He loves you so.
Francis Ridley Havergal
He does not want you to step through that dark portal of death without Him, because He loves you. It is a dark portal, beloved; it is shadowed: you cannot afford to arrive there without Him. I am speaking about the Man of whom this scripture speaks: “It is Christ who has died”.
Death has an important part in scripture teaching. It is a penalty that was a consequence of man becoming a sinner, and that is why we all have that appointment. It says that “death passed upon all men”, and there is a reason: “for that allhave sinned”, Rom 5: 12. I remember a preacher saying that he did not have to speculate about the kinds of sins we have committed; if you want to question whether you are a sinner, you are up against the word of God, not the word of the preacher, for the scripture says, “for that all have sinned”. And death is therefore a penalty which all of us have to face. And it has become an enemy as well, 1 Cor 15: 26. And the Scriptures also show us that, although the day of our death is in God’s hands, Satan has seized the power of it. That may be a bit difficult to understand because it might be thought that he could not go against the will of God about the death of any; but Satan has seized the power of death and he uses it to hold people in bondage, Heb 2: 14, 15. It helps to understand what that bondage is. The proposition he makes is this: if you do not know when you are going to die, you might as well live for the present. Mr Stoney shows that if you have not got a hope in heaven, all you have left is the earth (vol 3 p146); and if all you have left is the earth, the only kingdom you have part of is the devil’s: he is the ruler of the world, John 14: 30. If you do not have a hope outside of death, a hope outside this world, a hope which you may only realise through death, you are in bondage. You are held captive in a prison. It may have plenty of forms of entertainment and fulfilment in life, and friendships and other things; but its ruler is to be feared because he seeks the destruction of your eternal soul. You cannot afford to be under his authority because death is where it will end.
Now the glad tidings, dear friend, is that that enemy - not just death but the enemy of your soul - has been annulled. Paul says of the Lord Jesus, “that through death he might annul him who has the might of death, that is, the devil”, and it is that He “might set free all those who through fear of death through the whole of their life were subject to bondage”. Beloved, what glad tidings are these; here is the Deliverer! How has He delivered us? “It is Christ who has died”. If you go away with nothing else in your heart from this preaching, remember those six words: “It is Christ who has died”. I have had a very powerful impression this week that the death of Christ has changed death forever. It is not the same since Christ died. You can put your faith in the One who annulled him who had the might of death, and rose triumphant from its domain: “but rather has been also raised up; who is also at the right hand of God”. And He has not forgotten about you: “who also intercedes for us”. What a Saviour He is! Why did He do it? He did it to satisfy God’s righteous claims; He did it to establish God’s righteousness; He did it to lay a righteous platform on which God could set the throne of grace. He did it so that God’s heart could flow freely towards the sinner. Paul says in this letter, “God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us”, Rom 5: 8. It is one of the most precious things you could ever speak of, that that penalty which lies inescapably upon you, from which no one could deliver you, has been borne when Christ died. You cannot postpone the date of your death: hospitals speak about saving lives; they can do nothing more, as God allows them, than prolong them. What a glorious contrast it is that the Lord Jesus has annulled him that had the might of death, and He has set us free.
What a cost it was to Him, dear brethren; that that One who had the right to live, upon whom the shadow and claim of death had never passed, the One who was here for God’s pleasure and God’s glory, took upon Himself a penalty from which He alone was exempt. He did it for guilty, erring sinners like me. What a Saviour He is! Consider His love for you, that, given His compassion for you, and the certainty of the outcome of your sinful life, He has stepped in, and in a very timely way.
Scripture refers to another appointment in God’s ways, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son”, Gal 4: 4. He came to die: God’s judgment cannot wait, the scene of judgment is set, the audience is packed with guilty, godless people, railing against His Son, demanding that the Son of God should be murdered unrighteously; a cross lifted up; God’s judgment is about to be manifested. His unsparing wrath cannot wait, its stroke must fall and it cannot miss: it is poised, dear friend, over your place where you should be. And One who loved you took that place for you at the very moment when God’s wrath and judgment fell; and He delivered the believer from its stroke.
I appeal to you: turn to Him, love Him,
own Him - as we sang in our hymn:
As Lord and Master in thy heart enthrone Him,
- the Christ who has died. So that even now the greatest events and things that might enter into your life, however unwelcome they may be, however untimely they may seem, however unnatural even they may be, nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is a love that has proved itself towards you in that while you were yet a sinner He died for you.
May He bless the word!
10th April 2016